Saturday, December 1, 2012

Roster moves and Karstens!!!!

The Pirates have started to assemble their 2013 roster.  The two big moves to think about are Russel Martin behind the plate and letting go of Jeff Karstens.

First, Martin.  I guess I am okay with this, but I probably would not have done it.  I think they paid him in the 8 million range, and that is too high for an aging vet who is a good game caller, limited hitter with  pop, and only so-so at throwing out runners.  He will undoubtedly be an upgrade so it is hard to get upset, but the Pirates are where catchers go to die, and this is just the next victim in my mind.  Snyder and Barajas both could not find power in PNC, and I worry about Martin.  But the Pirates were desperate, and so how can you blame them.

Second, Karstens was not tendered a contract.  I will make no secret of the fact that I have long been a huge Jeff Karstens fan.  I thought he was the best of the group when we traded for him, even better than Ohlendorf and Pitch-n-Cutch, and so far I have been right.  He is not a great stats guy, and he cannot go deep in games, but he gives you a chance every night.  I think that makes him a perfect 5th starter.  Let's be honest, you cannot have 5 aces.  Karstens is a great back end starter, and he went deeper into games this year.  And if your manager knows Karstens is going to hit a wall in the 6th, then your bullpen can be ready and take him out.  Now, for Karstans not to be a drain on the pen you need an ace who can give you innings, and they have that now with Burnett.  Morton was tendered a contract, and he has always been weak in my mind.  Now he has the stuff that Karstens never did, but Morton as the great strikeout pitcher did not work, and now he pitches to contact, and he had one good year with that.  This year he was much worse, and I am not sure you can bet on him returning to 2011 stats.  Plus, about the time Morton is recovering, you are going to be looking to bring up Cole.  So, I would have non-tendered Morton, or at least tendered them both.

But to be fair, let us look at what the Pirates might have been doing.  Many rumors abound about getting rid of Hanrahan in a trade.  Much of this speculation is founded upon the idea of re-signing Grilli and turning him into a closer.  Grilli was amazing this year, but I am worried he will fold as a closer, but why not try it.  He is going to be a closer somewhere, and there is no way he resigns with us unless we make him the closer.  Saving the 3.8 million from Karstens might could be used to pay Grilli.  If that is the plan, then maybe this is worth it.  This might also signal a strong trust in the Pirate youngsters such as Locke and McPherson and even Cole.  They did trade for Vin Mazzarro, but if he is going to be taking Karsten's place, then I am sick to my stomach and the Pirates are going to have another losing season.  If Mazzarro is bullpen depth, then I am okay.

Which brings me to one last point, I am a huge fan of Clint Robinson.  He was simply blocked by a former top prospect in baseball in Eric Hosmer and perhaps one of the top 10 players in baseball right now in Billy Butler.  Robinson can hit for average and has shown power.  His defense is fine, and the man can take a walk which will be nice to see for a change.  I hope they do not bury him in AAA, but I expect he will start the season there.

Overall an active Pirate organization is a good sign.  We are not talking about Rule 5 draft choices and that means the Pirates are really in contention.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

40 Man Roster

The Pirates have fixed their 40 Man roster, and it is not a very surprising year.  This year I don't think the Pirates will lose anyone in the Rule 5 Draft, although it looks like they could choose someone as the roster is only at 39.  If they can't get a free agent, they may take a chance.  And they have to make some decisions on tendering offers yet.  If they choose not to keep someone like Resop (which would be okay with me) or Karstens (which would upset me), then there are more spots for more signings.

The Pirates added Tony Sanchez and Ramon Cabrera.  Both are catchers but only Sanchez has real chance of making a contribution.  Cabrera is a sign of our lack of depth at catcher.  If we do sign a catcher, he could be dropped from the 40 man without much worry.
They added Vic Black, who is going to be a late inning bullpen guy and maybe one day a closer.  I like Black, and I think we see him this year in Pittsburgh.  One of the reasons Resop is expendable.  They also added Hunter Strickland.  This is just the Pirates liking velocity and hoping.
The Pirates added Phil Irwin, who forced them to do it.  He is a low 90's pitcher who has done nothing but win at every level.  He was their only pitcher when he was at West Virginia, but all assumed he would wash out at Bradenton, a hitters park.  He didn't.  This past year he showed he could win at AA, and in fact seems to be getting more strikeouts.  Irwin would have been taken, so he has to be protected.  I am excited to see him at AAA this year.

Those left off are in little danger of going anywhere with one exception.  First, this is the end of Jarek Cunningham.  He was highly thought of by many people, but was never any good.  He had power, but baseball is about a lot more than power, like being able to hit.
The one who could get taken is Kyle Kaminska.  He was part of the Gabby Sanchez trade and saw some time with the Pirates.  They tried him out in the AFL, but apparently were not pleased enough to give him a slot.  He did well in the AFL, but not really anywhere else.  We will see if a team takes a runner on Kyle and hides him in the bullpen.
It should also be noted that this is the end of the line for Tim Alderson.  He was not added.  I don't think he will get picked, but it is basically the Pirates giving up on him.  Starter, bullpen, fix his delivery, and whatever else was held out as hope is all gone.  Alderson is a bust, and stands as clearly the worst trade the Pirates have made in some time.  Just awful.

Winter Meetings are on the horizon.  Free agents here we come.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Next Year

We are going to start going through the top prospects in the system, but until the Arizona Fall League makes things a little clear for us, we should think about the Pirates next year.

The Pirates will probably not re-sign Correia, Qualls, or Barajas.  I would like to hope they keep Grilli, but he may leave for bigger money elsewhere.  I think they will non-tender Resop if they can resign Grilli, but if they don't think they can, they keep Resop.  But Charlie Morton is a non-tender guy.  Other than that, I think they have to tender everyone.  Karstens, they need.  Sanchez could go, but he is probably worth the price, and they are short at 1B.  Walker, McDonald, and Hanrahan are clear cut tenders.  So is Garret Jones.

That leaves a hole at catcher, some holes in the pen, and a fifth starter.

Frankly, I don't think Tony Sanchez is ready for starting in the majors.  This is a place the Pirates focus on during the off season.  They need a catcher who can throw some one out, or at least make them think twice.  Hitting would not hurt here either.

I don't think the Pirates will be able to sign anyone worth while as a starter.  If they can great, he moves into the rotation, but if not I think the Pirates are comfortable with Kyle McPherson.  Jeff Locke will start off in Triple A unless he has a great training camp.  The bullpen can get a few signees.

The real question is the bench.  There is a bit of a glut for the corner outfield spot, and a bunch of utility infielders to choose from.  In the outfield you have Travis Snyder, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley assuming that one corner spot goes to Starling Marte.  As the utility infield you have Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Chase D'Arnaud, and Brock Holt.

So my predictions for next year's line up are:
Catcher: Free Agent and McHenry as the back up.
First Base: Garret Jones and Gaby Sanchez
Second Base: Neil Walker
Short Stop: Clint Barmes (yes, he will be back)
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez
Outfield: Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Jose Tabata
Bench: (McHenry and Sanchez as stated) Jordy Mercer (because he is the best defensively and can play all three infield positions), Travis Snyder (he is left handed with more power than Presley.  I would even expect a possible platoon with Tabata), and then Josh Harrison.

I think Harrison will make it because he is a Hurdle type guy.  Harrison plays with energy, and he puts the ball in play.  No walks, but contact.  He has shown he can do it more than d'Arnaud, and Brock Holt has more options left than either of those guys.  Holt's defense is limited to second base, and that position is locked in.  Harrison could play third as well as second.

Frankly, I would be happier if they traded Barmes, and started Mercer with d'Arnaud then making the team, but they won't do it.  Mercer has never been given a consistent shot at hitting major league pitching.  I think he could do as well as Barmes.

Rotation: Burnett, Wandy Rodriguiz, McDonald, Karstens, and McPherson  (Cole will join in July replacing whoever is failing of the last three)
Bullpen: Hanrahan, Resop, Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Free Agent, Free Agent, Victor Black.

Now I am a little out there on this one.  Black is clearly part of the future, and I think he becomes the new Grilli this year.  However, they may slow play Black in AAA.  Either way, I think the bullpen is almost completely reconstructed.  Bryan Morris was bad down the stretch this year, and he is not going to break camp with the team.  Chris Leroux is a possibility, but not a great one.  Tony Watson has done it in the past, but he may sit in AAA if they sign a good lefty Free Agent.  Also, Daniel McCutchen is not going to survive the winter, as I bet they cut him from the 40 man.  The Bullpen was not that good this year, and I think the Pirates will rebuild it with free agents as they often do.  Expect some camp invites and out right signings to create a real bullpen competition.  And remember Resop may not come back, so this is wide open.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Neal's Draft Class - Should we fire Neal

Now let me be clear up front.  I think it would be a mistake not to retain Neal Hunington.  I think the clear improvement in the on field product at basically every level is reason enough.  I think the vast improvement in the Latin American presence is reason enough.  But recently a lot of criticism has arisen over his drafts.  The good people at Bucs Dugout for example make a case for why the draft classes of NH are not good.  I want to take my own look at the class of 08-12 to see if Neal's drafts are as bad as some think.

We should begin by looking at 1st round picks because that is where every team has a shot at an impact player.  Neal changed the thinking of the Front Office and has gone for the big name, usually.  In 08 it was Pedro Alvarez.  He may have been rushed, but he appears to be the impact player now.  In 09 it was Tony Sanchez, which we will come back to as Tony is still in the minors.  In 10 it was Taillon, who still appears to be on track as an ace.  In 11 it was Gerrit Cole, who is another ace.  In 12 it was Mark Appell, who did not sign.  So, we see three of the five NH did what he should and has helped the franchise.  Appell's case is interesting since he did not sign, but it is under the new system.  The Pirates did everything they could without being punished by MLB, and Appel just would not sign.  And they get a comp pick at #9 overall next year, so it makes trying to sign Appel a good gamble.  Appel was the best talent on the board.  In 09 the draft class was weak, and NH had a strategy to sign lots of HS arms later in the draft and so he saved some money.  In the end, Sanchez will still be a starting catcher for the Pirates, perhaps as soon as next year.  I would stop short of saying he is an impact player, but he will be a starter, so it is hard to classify it as a failure pick.  And for the record only three All Stars have come out of that draft, one of which is Strassborg, who was already gone by the Pirates 4th pick.  The other two are Aaron Crow, as a bullpen arm, and Mike Trout, who was a high school bat at the time.  Just to show the Pirates were not alone in that mess, the second overall pick was Dustin Ackley who hit .232 this year for the Mariners.  Third overall pick Donavan Tate played in High A ball this year.  Mike Minor and Mike Leake are good pitchers the Pirates might could have gotten, but not a big whiff.

Let us now look at this strategy of signing younger players with big bonuses to see if has worked out.
In 08 we signed 8 guys to bonuses over 100,000.  Jordy Mercer, Chase d'Arnaud, and Justin Wilson appear poised to make contributions the Pirates and have already played for them.  Robbie Grossman was traded in the Wandy deal, so he was clearly good enough to aid the team as a trade piece.  Can't hold that against him.  Benji Gonzales, Wes Freeman, Quinton Miller, and Jeremy Farell appear to be organizational guys only.  So NH hit 50%.

In 09 there were there were 12 late round big bonus guys.  Brock Holt is already on the team and looks very good at the plate.  Others who appear ready or on track to help the Pirates include only Victor Black.  Black may even break camp with the Pirates and looks like a future closer.  However before throwing out the rest of this class, we need to note that Colton Cain was part of the Wandy trade, and Brooks Pounders was traded for Navarro this past off season.  Both those guys then need to count as good picks.  In addition, it is still to early to give up on Dodson and Von Rosenberg.  ZVR showed improvement and Dodson had a good year in the past before an injury.  Next year is make or break for both.  That makes the success rate at a possible 50% again, but will probably be a little lower if ZVR and Dodson do not pan out.

2010 was a major year where the Pirates signed Stetson Allie to a big multimillion dollar deal.  He has since been removed as a pitcher and put in the field.  No matter what happens in my opinion that is a big whiff.  At least let him try to be a closer.  That is the biggest mistake made by NH, but I hardly think it is worth burying him over.  Let us also remember that Brandon Crumpton still looks like a back of the rotation possibility, Tyler Waldron looks like a bullpen contributor.  Nick Kingham also looks like a middle to back of the rotation guy.  So three decent picks who are all on pace.  Mel Rojas Jr. and Drew Maggi are not tearing it up with the bats, but neither looks overmatched at this point either.  Both could show a little more plate discipline, but they are still on track as potential MLB guys . Ryan Hafner followed up his good last season with an absolute disaster this year.  Still, he was always a project and it is too early to give up on him.  Jared Lakind is probably too early to give up on either, but he and Sadler look like misses.  So here you have 3 good picks, 3 misses (including a big one), and 3 maybes.

In 2011 the Pirates took 11 more big bonus guys.  And it is too early to rule any of these guys out and it  should be noted that the Pirates likely knew this was the last year they could do the bonus game, so why not throw a lot of money around.  They did, so maybe we ought to be a little easy on them for going for broke the last year one could.  Josh Bell is the highlight of this group, and he was doing great before a knee injury ended the season for him.  While Dickerson (3rd round pick) was disappointing, but not awful, the Pirates look pretty good in this group.  Candon Myles hit .279 and has speed.  Colten Brewer had an up and down year but is striking out 6.5 per 9 innings.  Tyler Glasnow was at 10 K/9.  Jake Burnette struggled, but was pitching at Low A, which ought to be remembered.  The same is true of Jason Creasy.  They are still interesting prospects.  Clay Holmes also pitched at Low A, and frankly was pretty good winning 5.  Walks are a bit high, but that is to be expected.  I think Holmes may make the jump to West Virginia this next year.  Taylor Lewis was okay, and Dan Gamache was good and shows utility infield kind of defense.  The only one that looks to be shaping up as a miss is Jordan Cooper who is throwing out the bullpen and giving up lots of long balls (almost 3 per 9 innings).  

2012 is way to early to read, but the number of big bonuses is now really kind of set at 10 thanks to the new CBA.  The Pirates look like they got a real winner in Wyatt Mathewson who tore up Rookie league along with Max Moroff.  Interestingly Moroff walked more than he struck out.  Eric Wood did well there too.  Barrett Barnes looked good in Low A.  Sandfort struggled a bit in 8 appearances, but that is to be expected.  Adrian Sampson was striking out 9 per 9 innings with a nice 2.82 ERA.  And John Kuchno only threw 5 innings.  

And remember this does not say anything about late round finds that are turning out well and signed for under $100,000 like Matt Curry and Phil Irwin, both of whom look like the have at least limited MLB roles in their future.  

It is possible that the draft strategy of Neal Hunington is only going to be right 50% of the time.  Still, is that a bad failure rate?  The big miss of Allie has many questioning the decisions.  Even if you think that this is an unacceptable draft philosophy it is all moot now.  MLB got rid of that possibility in the CBA with the hard slotting system.  Now Neal cannot do it anymore.  So, I think the draft should not be a reason to fire NH.  And I think it is a possibility that the Pirates are going to end up with a lot of good players from the last two drafts under the old system (10 and 11).  I think you can see that Neal grew in his drafts.  In 09 he threw money at young projectable pitchers.  He still did a lot of that in 10 and 11, but also moved on to get good position players.  Players like Josh Bell, Candon Myles, and Max Moroff are exciting additions and less likely to flop big as some high school pitching arms.  The growth of the Pirates in the draft has me excited for drafts, which was never true under the old regime.  Let us not forget how bad it was when we drafted Daniel Moskos and Bryan Bullington.  Those days are gone.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why 2 Wild Cards is a bad idea

The Pirates are one game over .500 now, and probably will finish the season well under.  But the Pirates still have a chance to make the playoffs as they are only 3 games out (if the Cards lose tonight and they are down 4 in the 8th).

This is a prime example of why the two wild card teams is a bad idea.  Right now no one in the NL wants that final wild card spot.  The hottest team is the Brewers who are tied with the Pirates, and also lost tonight now that the post season is a real possibility.  For any of these teams to play post season ball will be an embarrassment.

What is worse is how two wild cards is ruining what would be an amazing division chase in the AL East.  Baltimore is tied for the lead with the Yanks, and the Rays are just 2 out.  Can you imagine the drama if only the winner of the division moved on?  These games where they have been playing head to head would come close to beating out the beginning of the NFL.  Would this be a huge collapse for the Yanks?  It would be panic time in the Bronx.  Instead both Baltimore and the Yanks are in playoff position and the only story is if the Rays can come back to overtake one of them.  Worse yet, with a second wild card the Rays could also make the playoffs if the A's falter at all.  Three teams from one division could all make the playoffs.  A potentially historic division race rendered pointless.  Thanks MLB.  Thanks for nothing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What the Pirates still need . . .

While it is entirely possible that the Pirates make the playoffs this year, they are clearly a team lacking something.  They are not playoff ready.  What exactly is it?

I have a slightly different view than many.  I think the Pirates are pretty set at the positions.  Sure you could upgrade a few, and probably for a World Series run, one of the weak positions needs to be upgraded.  The weak positions are: catcher, short stop, and corner outfield.  However, corner outfield was a bit of problem this year because of the unexpected regression of Jose Tabata.  And with Sterling Marte coming up, I think the corner outfield position is going to be fine.  I think with only a weak short stop who can play defense, and a catcher who is at least a power threat from time to time, the Pirates are  fine offensively.  

The problem is with pitching.  And it is not with the bullpen.  The Pirates have bullpen depth in AAA including Morris, Wilson, and soon Victor Black.  Plus, the front office has a track record of adding the right free agent pieces there.  It is starting pitching that is the problem.  

Let me start with James McDonald.  Everyone has him penciled in next year as a key piece of the rotation, but I think he is a liability.  McDonald had a good first half and has struggled lately.  Sounds a lot like Charlie Morton last year.  Morton has been on the DL, but if you remember was not so good at the beginning of this year.  The problem with the Pirates staff is that they are depending on people who have a one good year, or a good half a year.  Other than Burnett, who is aging, the Pirates do not have a dependable front line starter.  In Jeff Karstens they have a dependable back of the rotation guy.  He is not going to overpower any teams, but will keep you in most games.  Wandy Rodreguiz was a great trade acquisition because of this very reason.  He has been the guy on the Astros, which means he is probably a 3 man.  So the Pirates have three guys in their rotation for next year.  McDonald will not duplicate his early success, and will end up hurting the team as he has at the end of the year.  Correia is more effective.  

The hope for next year is not Cole, who has yet to show his stuff in AAA.  He may be up mid year at the earliest, but he should not be counted on as a front line guy.  Jeff Locke could be ready.  They need him to turn out to be a good pitcher since they traded away Rudy Owens.  Kyle McPhearson also has the high K rate and a speedy fastball, but he was injured most of this year, so expect him to repeat AAA.  The load then is squarely on the shoulders of Locke.  That is not really a recipe for a good run next year.  Hopefully the Pirates will be able to compete again, but it could be another disappointing season next year.  

The Pirates need to set their sights on 2014.  That year should be a full year of a now fairly experienced Gerrit  Cole, a second year for Locke, and the year Taillon arrives mid season.  Add that to Wandy, Burnett, and maybe McPhearson, and the Pirate rotation starts to look like a top of the line rotation.  That is when I expect to make the deep run into the playoffs and World Series.  

Of course the Pirates could surprise me with a Free Agent signing that addresses the problem, but it is going to be a tough market to do that.  I think they feel they addressed it as best they could with Wandy.  The future is very bright for the Pirates, but unless the Cards collapse, this year is not the year.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Minor League Success

I have been as caught up as anyone in the Pirates push for the Post Season.  Half a game out, and with an easier schedule than the Cards and the Dodgers, making the playoffs is a real possibility.

However, measuring the improvement in the franchise is best done at the minor league level.  And while wins and losses are often not important for prospects, I think they give a bit of the overall health of the franchise.

The Pirates have long been good in Latin America, and that continues this year with the DSL.  The playoffs are on going, but the Pirate affiliate has advanced to the finals.  Continued dominance is never a bad thing.

The rookie league GCL Pirates won the GCL with a sweep through the playoffs.  Great pitching from 2011 high school draft picks, and hot hitting by Wyatt Matheson, 2012 2nd round pick, as well as Dilsen Herrera (Latin America prospect) propelled this team to greatness.  It is the first time the GCL Pirates have ever won.

State College was awful again, but not as awful as normal.  The Pirates just don't put a large stock in drafting college players, and are not afraid to skip this level with players like Josh Bell.

West Virginia did well this year.  They are about 4 games out with 3 remaining.  They are above .500, and have shown great hitting all year.  Jose Osuna and Alen Hansen are break out stars along with Gregory Polanco.  Dan Gamache had a good year as well Slugging over .426.  If Josh Bell had been healthy this would have been one offensive team to keep an eye upon.  Nick Kingham had a great second half to lead the pitchers.  He ended up with 117 Ks.  Overall a good year.  Kingham is still a top 15 prospect.

Bradenton is about 5.5 games out right now, and that is an impressive feat when you think of all the players they lost as the year went along.  Gerrit Cole was an early move up and Jameson Taillon has been gone for a couple of rotations as well.  Oddly enough Bradenton was hammered in the first half standings, so they have shown real improvement as the year went on.

Altoona has 3 games left and is one game under .500.  This is also pretty impressive considering they lost so much.  Robbie Grossman, who is still near the top on the team in homers, was traded before the deadline.  Brock Holt, who was hitting above .300, was promoted to AAA.  As was Gerrit Cole.  The surprising thing about the Altoona was the pitching.  Phil Irwin has been under the radar, but no more.  He pitched great all year: ERA 2.93 with 83/17 K/BB ratio.  Very impressive.  He would have been the most impressive if not for Victor Black showing himself to be a major league closer.  Black's fast ball is live, and he recorded 85 K's from the bullpen.  I wish there was a stat for 1-2-3 innings because I would bet Black would dominate that.  Expect Black on the 40 man and starting off in AAA next year, but getting an early call up to the bigs.  He could very well be Hanrahan's replacement.  Oh and Brandon Crumpton was not bad either.  He also had 85 Ks, but walks were a little high.

Indy was the place that surprised the most, and shows the great future of the Pirates.  The Pirates were able to raid Indy regularly for good players, and the team kept playing well.  This shows there is some major league ready talent in Indy.  Rudy Owens pitched well enough to anchor a trade.  Jeff Locke pitched great, and is joining the big leagues now.  As is Kyle MchPhearson.  Jordy Mercer was good while he was there.  Alex Presley has rejoined the big leagues and continues to play great at AAA.  Chase d'Arnaud had a good second half.  Brock Holt was out of his mind good for his short stint.  Justin Wilson looks like a big leaguer.  Even Sanchez appears to be able to hit up here.  Bryan Morris and Dan McCutchen don't look bad, but may not be ready.  So, overall this is a great team.  A few possible stars and lots of major league quality guys.  That is something I don't think you could have said for a long time.  They are in the playoffs and AAA Indy will get some experience playing post season ball.  They will do so without some of their regulars, but will have Gerrit Cole for the playoffs.  Worth watching.

Overall the Pirates strategy of drafting high talent is paying off.  Von Rosenburg may not be what we had hoped, but Colton Cain was good enough to be traded, and help the big league team.  The high schoolers since then are pitching well at State College and GCL.  I think there is some real reason to be excited for the future of the Pirates.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trading Deadline and what it means

The Pirates traded a lot of pieces over the last few days, and it is time to see what it means.

First and foremost, it means the Pirates are not selling everything for a one year run like the Brewers did a few years ago.  Rather they are improving this year's team, but building a dynasty type team.  Control over Wandy and Snider are evidence that they are not just going for a one year thing.

Second, I think we need to see the willingness to do things different.  This is a team in contention that got rid of two people on its 25 man roster, changed its rotation, and looks real different despite having a solid year so far.  They got rid of Brad Lincoln who was an amazingly effective reliever and versatile piece with spot starting potential.  They got rid of Casey McGehee, who was an offseason acquisition, and while disappointing so far, still added a power threat and was the best pinch hitter on the team.  This is not what teams usually do when trading.  They usually get someone for a bunch of prospects and send down one guy to make room for the star they just got.  Not so for the Pirates.

Third and building off of that last point, the Pirates are saying something about their organization.  They are saying that they think Pedro Alvarez has arrived.  McGehee was always an insurance guy to make sure power still existed on the team if Pedro laid an egg.  And while Pedro needs to improve, he is not laying an egg, and is hitting for great power.  McGehee is now expendable, and worth a middle reliever.  The Pirates are also saying that they have great pitching depth.  They traded not only Brad Lincoln, but Rudy Owens and Colton Cain.  I think they were willing to do this not so much because they have Cole and Taillon, but because they are believers in Jeff Locke and the emerging Phil Irwin.  One would think that Locke and Owens are two of a kind, and the Pirates chose to deal Owens.  Locke  is their guy.  Expect to see Locke in September.  Cain was doing okay.  Great last year, average this year, but with Phil Irwin continuing to excel at a level above Cain the need for Cain goes down.  Add in the great success that players younger than Cain are having, and the Pirates did not have a problem with Cain going.

Fourth, middle infield is good enough.  I think this point is over looked often.  The Pirates have a weak middle infield starter right now in Clint Barmes.  But Barmes has more control years, and the Pirates have a ton of options who will be at least as good in d'Arnaud, Mercer, Harrison, and Navarro.  For what is out there the Pirates decided to go other directions and improve the starting rotation, corner outfield, and the corner infield/bench spot.

Fifth, the Pirates are set for outfielders.  Clearly they think Marte is a keeper.  They now have Snider, and so don't need Hernandez.  The trading of Grossman says quite a bit as well.  Presley is obviously someone they think could stick around.  But they must think that Tabata is not done.  Either way they are saying they have enough to compete until Josh Bell and Mel Rojas arrive.

So the Pirates did well at the deadline.  Is it going to be enough to win the division?  I think that is mostly up to Wandy Rodriguiz.  He is the one who will have the biggest impact.  Looking forward to the rest of the season.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln - What does it mean?

The Pirates made a trade the day before the deadline acquiring Travis Snider from the Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln.  Now, I have been a big Brad Lincoln supporter, and I do think that he could still be a starter, but probably not more than a fifth starter.  He will be a great bullpen guy with the possibility of being a closer because I think he throws hard enough.  No matter where you put him in the pen, he will be good.

However, I like this trade.  Snider has control until 2016 when the next wave of Pirates arrive.  He is arbitration eligible in 2013, but probably will not command a ton of dollars.  He is a lot like Lincoln in that he has good AAA numbers, but has not yet shown that ability at the major league level.  He is only 24 making him three years younger than Lincoln.  And if we are trying to win this year, then Snider is who we need.  The bullpen can go with someone else from Triple A or a waiver claim, and the Pirates need a bat with some hits in it.  Snider could be that guy.  He is a lefty, so that could help too.  They had to get a bat some how, and this is as good a way as any.  The fact he has so much control, I think means this is a win for the Pirates.

What this means for the future then is even more interesting.  Snider is a lefty bat making him a bit redundant with Alex Presley.  Let's assume that long term Marte is the answer for one outfield slot.  Right now, Marte may lose playing time to Snider, especially against righties if we want to load up left handers in the line up.  In the future that is not going to be the case.  So, this trade can be seen as admitting Presley is not the long term solution.  Presley does not have that corner outfield power that is expected.  Snider might.
But even more interesting is whether or not this is a shot at Tabata.  They just signed a guy for Tabata's spot with control for years.  Tabata is not doing well in AAA and Presley is playing decent ball in the pros.  So perhaps we ought to be reading this as a sign that Tabata is going to have to earn his spot on the team next year.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wandy Rodriguez Trade Analysis

I have to say that I think I am against this most recent move despite the fact that it makes us better this year.

Wandy is a good pitcher, and can fit in as a solid number 3 guy behind Burnett and McDonald.  But unlike McDonald, he has done it for a whole season and has post season experience.  It moves Correia to the bullpen, which makes the team better overall.  However, I think the price was too high.

Wandy for Rudy Owens makes sense despite my belief Rudy will make a good 4 or 5 guy for years to come.  Wandy has some years of control left, which makes Rudy's path to the big leagues harder.  Might as well send him on so he can have a shot at the majors.  I can acknowledge the need to add another player to this deal.  Colton Cain was in my top 10 prospect list, which means the Pirates just traded away two of their top 10 guys in my book.  Admittedly Cain was probably going to drop out of the top 10 with his so-so year.  And I guess Cain does not have a lot of room to assume adding speed, so what you see is what you get.  Still Cain has a power fastball, and his secondary pitches can still improve.  His year is a disappointment, but not a loss.  I would imagine he would still move up next year to AA.

The problem I have is adding a third player with the caliber of talent of a Robbie Grossman.  Robbie had a great year last year, and was on fire after a very slow start that could either be attributed to recovering from his hamate surgery or an undisclosed bad attitude that got him suspended for over a week earlier this year.  Since that time, it is hard to complain and his numbers look good from that point on.  He was showing all he could play at the high levels.  His power still needs to come up, but that developing is not out of the question.  If Marte can still have hope of power, so can Grossman.  I had Grossman near my top 10, and sometimes I would put him in it.  I just don't get Wandy as worth three of your top 10 guys (in last year's rankings anyway).

Now, I can see the logic.  Wandy is an upgrade over Rudy and removes your need for him.  And Cain has been passed by Cole and Taillion, so Cain does not need to be in your future plans.  Especially with the show some of the younger guys are putting on this year in Rookie and State College.  Heredia is better than Cain right now, so he is no more than a future 4th starter.  And I can see reasons for sending Grossman.  He would have to be on the 40 man, and with the addition of Rojas and Bell, the outfield has a lot of people, and Grossman is not really needed.  Although one could make the case with Tabata being so bad this year, that maybe he will be needed while those guys move up the system.  I just cannot fathom Wandy being worth all of them.  Clearly the Pirates think more of Kyle McPhearson than I do (which makes Cain lower in importance for the Pirates), but his injury should show the real value of even guys like Cain.  You have to wonder a little if the mid-season suspension of Grossman really soured the Pirates on him.

I hope Wandy proves me wrong.  And I like getting a guy who is under control for next year, and even an option for 2014.  So while I think they overpaid, it is hard to complain too much.  Make the playoffs and all will be forgiven.  His experience their could come in real handy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Draft Review

It is really too early to tell if the 2012 draft is good or bad, but you really ought to grade it now anyway.  It is a matter of expectations.

First off any draft where you don't sign your number one pick ought to drop the draft a letter grade, and when you are picking in the top 10, it ought to drop your draft two letter grades.  Although getting a comp pick makes the top possible grade the Pirates can receive as C+.

Losing Appel is a major blow to the draft, but can pay off next year.  Getting the 9th overall pick is  going to be good news because this year the Pirates will probably draft in the top 3rd for the first time in a long time.  They also won the Competitive balance draft lottery and will get an extra pick at the end of round one.  Next year's draft the Pirates ought to be able to get a lot.

Still that does not help this year's draft and Appel was the first pick.  He did not sign despite being offered over the slot money.  The Pirates are not completely to blame because their hands were tied.  You cannot give up a draft pick next year for him.  The Pirates knew the risks and took it.  They could have drafted someone else who would have signed.  Appel was the best on the board, but at the end of the day, he is not a Pirate.

The Pirates draft gets worse from there.  The C+ would have still been possible if they had signed the man that they drafted as insurance against Appel not signing: Walker Buehler.  A young high school arm was clearly not going to sign for under 100,000 which is what needed to happen for a 14th rounder.  But when Appel was not going to sign, they should have put a full court press with their 3 million to get Buehler.  Perhaps they should have given up on Appel early enough to try and do this.  I really thought they would.  They did not.  A big failure.

The Pirates hung this draft on Appel.  They did go with quality in the first couple of picks.  Barrett Barns was probably about right for a Comp round and the fact that he signed under is a bonus.  Wyatt Mattheson and Jon Sandfort are good picks.  Failing to sign Brandon Thomas hurt as well, but the pick was not bad.  With the exception Kevin Ross at round 8 the rest are picks designed to save money for Appel.  We signed them, but they are not adding a lot to the system.  DJ Crumlich is killing the ball in State College, so maybe we have something there.

They did get a few guys in the later rounds that have upside, but are still a bit of a long shot.  Max Moroff and Hayden Hurst got extra money to come probably from the Appel failure.  But without Buehler, it is not enough to make up for the loss and the money left on the board.

Of the other late round picks I am intrigued that John Kuchino from Ohio State took extra money to sign.  He seems like a decent reliever, but little else.  The only one who excites me in the later rounds is Jimmy Rider.  Rider is one of the all time hit leaders at Kent State, and did pretty well in the College World Series with a homer and a double off some of the best college pitching.  He is defensively limited being already a 2nd baseman, but he may make it as a back up one day.  I like the pick at any rate.

Overall this draft did not add a lot to the system.  I expect that this draft is lucky to receive a D as a grade and only got that because of the late additions of Ross, Moroff and Hurst, and the fact that the comp pick of Barnes mitigates the loss of Appel somewhat.

Next it is time to re-look at the past drafts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Second Half

As Pirate fans remember, last year the Pirates were in first place in late July, making moves at the trading deadline, and then completely fell off the planet to not even finish .500.  Now a lot of that had to do with injuries to people like Alex Presley, and especially to Derek Lee right after he was acquired. What can we expect this year in the second half?

First off, do not fear an implosion like last year.  There are several reasons for this.  First and not to be forgotten in the stats is that sometimes teams have to learn how to play in big important games.  The Pirates got a taste last year.  I expect that is vastly important although impossible to calculate.  Second, last year the pitching staff was destined to fall apart.  Kevin  Correia especially was ready to explode and he did.  This year's staff is much more on target.  Last year we were not striking guys out, but still getting them out at an amazingly high rate, a rate you knew would normalize to our detriment.  This year those numbers are more normal mostly because we are striking guys out.  We also have arms in reserve should something go wrong with one of them.  Rudy Owens is ready to go in Triple A and Brad Lincoln is in the bullpen ready to go.  Charlie Morton is on the DL and ought to be back at some point.  So, we ought to be able to keep up the pitching.

Second, we are just a much better team.  I know not a lot changed other than Burnett and Bedard, but those two changes are enormously important.  Also, this year we are playing with Pedro.  Pedro is not setting the world on fire, but he is consistently providing a power threat.  He is second on the team in homers and RBIs.  No small thing despite his still pathetic average, which is climbing.  Add in a power hitting catcher that we did not have last year, and the team is in a much better position offensively.  This of course goes without mentioning the obvious improvement in McCutchen and Walker who both are having excellent years.  More than making up for the fall of in Tabata.  Our bench is also better with some power on it as well.

Third, expect a deal.  I think one thing the Pirates showed last year and in this off season is that they will make deals to better the team.  Nothing splashy, but probably effective.  Last year the moves were solid, but just failed.  Lee actually played great while he was with the team, a bean ball to the hand just limited that to a handful of games.  Ludwick was a bust, but the numbers supported the deal.  Sometimes people just don't play well.  Expect the Pirates to end up with something to help out somewhere.  Probably a corner outfielder again, or a short stop if the right deal comes along.  I expect that Pirates are looking for both.

The Pirates may not make the playoffs or win the division.  A one game lead is not a very secure lead.  And while some players have room to get better (like Pedro), others might fall off some (like McCutchen).  Injuries can always happen.  But it is hard to imagine a situation that would make the Pirates fall under .500.  This is the year the streak ends.  Enjoy the second half.  It is going to be a doozy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

CBA Crisis

The success or failure of the new CBA might just revolve around the Pirates.  

When the new CBA was announced it gave some nice benefits in the international market in exchange for a hard cap system in the draft.  Teams are penalized excessively for going over their budget assigned by MLB.  Each slot is not hard in and of itself, but the cap for the first 10 picks and the draft over all are so hard that it might as well be.  There are going to be some "competitive" bonuses to aid the small market teams, but in the end the small market teams gave in on a hard cap to free themselves from being held hostage by agents who demand major league contracts and/or big time dollars.  

This year the Pirates draft 8th, and were given a budget for the first 10 rounds.  Later round picks cannot go over $100,00 or that counts against your first 10 round budget.  Now everybody's big board had Mark Appel going first to the Houston Astros.  This would have given him about 7 million in cash (slightly more).  Now Appel has Scott Boras as his agent.  Boras always goes for the big money, and he made it pretty clear that he was going to go for over the slot money no matter what this year.  Boras must have been in shock as his client went from first to 8th and his slot money went from 7 million to 3 million.  There is no way Boras is going to let his client get 8th slot money.  Boras is going to try and break the system this year.  What happens may be the best indicator about this new system.  All eyes should be squarely on the Pirates.  

Interestingly the Pirates have positioned themselves to play hard ball with some ground to give.  They took a very signable player in the comp round.  That was budgeted for just over a 1 million, but could come in under that.  Rounds 2 through 5, however, were clearly picking the best available player.  Some of them could be hard signs.  Then the Pirates changed course (in an admittedly weak draft), and rounds 6-10 were very cheap players featuring a couple of seniors and a guy not ranked in the top 500 (word is he already signed for about $88,000 under slot).  So they did free up some money for Appel.  Yet, the Pirates then picked Walker Buehler in the 14th round.  Buehler is the 50th best prospect according to Baseball America.  He cannot be given more than $100,000, which he will need to sign.  But if the Pirates cannot sign Appel, then $3mil appears, and he could easily be signed without the Pirates incurring penalties.   

What MLB has to worry about is what this is going to mean if a talented kid like Appel fails to sign, AND they have to worry about what it means if the Pirates break and give significant over-the-slot money to Appel.  The Pirates have to win with slot money or a small over the slot bonus, but still signing the rest of their top 10 picks, and staying under the penalty.  If the Pirates fail to do that then the CBA does not work.  Agents will still hold teams hostage, and instead of spending a lot of money and getting three or four big time talents in a draft with a lot of regular major leaguers thrown in, small market teams will get one talent and nothing else.  All the eggs will now be in one basket.  Which means many teams will take the signability route and never ever take a chance on a future superstar.  Which will keep them at the bottom of the barrel for years to come. 

The future of the CBA is now in a Pirates vs. Boras showdown.  It is going to be a doozy.

2012 Draft

The Pirates 2012 Draft is in the books and it is a pretty good one considering the low talent year.

Obviously getting Mark Appel is a good thing.  Now they still have to sign him, which won't be easy, but as the best or second best pitcher in this draft, you have to be pleased.  His strike out total is low, but he throws upper 90's with a good breaking pitch.  He is major league material even without the K rate one would expect.  

Barrett Barnes was a comp round kind of talent.  Listed as the 21st best position player in the draft, he should sign and a be a good fit.  Ought to be able to stick at Center.  

Picks 2,3,4, and 5 are good picks.  One would hope that they all sign with Mathisen being a very nice prospect who also actually fills a big organizational need if he can learn the catcher position.  I hope he signs soon so he can get into some Rookie league games.

Picks 6-10 are designed to save money.  The three seniors are clearly going to sign.  Stallings is your State College starting catcher.  Eric Wood would be insane not to sign and sign for less than slot because he is not rated anywhere, and will probably never get this high again.  

Not too much more interesting happened except the 14th overall pick.  Walker Buehler is a top 100 kind of prospect who feel because of the new CBA.  It seems as if he is the insurance against Appel.  If Appel will not be reasonable, Buehler will sign for much less, but it will take more than the 100,000 allowable for over 10th round picks.  

Mostly we see that the Pirates took a lot of college seniors and juniors and left the prep guys until the end, and they will not sign many of them because of the inability to give bonus money over 100,000.  The Pirates did go heavy on pitching even from the college ranks.  

I do have to point out Jimmy Rider, 2B, (26th round) who is the all time hits leader at Kent State.  No power, and probably not a prospect, but it should be fun to watch him at State College.  

You can expect State College to have Barnes in Center, Thomas at one of the corner outfield spots, Stallings behind the plate, Crumlich at SS and Diaz playing there and second, Jordan Steranka from Penn State at 3B, Rider at 2B, and a pitching staff that will join Luis Herredia including Sampson, Ludwig, Friend, and Harlan.  There are lots of other pitchers too, so who makes the actual rotation will be interesting.  But Appel is the only real good pitching prospect heading to State College from this draft and his signing will go to the wire.  In fact, if he signs, he may go to West Viriginia because he is ready for it.  Sandfort, who is talented will probably go to Rookie ball as a Prep pitcher or simply not pitch this year at all.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Minor League Troubles?

It has been a while since I posted. I am not going to be able to do so many game posts as I used to, so this blog is now going to have to be a little more big picture. And this far into the season some complaints have come up about the minors. This is usually connected to whether or not the Front Office should be retained or not. So let's look. It is true that the Indianapolis Indians have struggled offensively this year. They have underwhelmed to be sure. However, we should take a closer look. First, the actual prospects have not done horrible. Marte started blazing hot and has cooled. Matt Hague started off in the majors, so has not been down the whole time. But his average is not bad, and I think has earned another call up for the interleague series. We will see about that. Jordy Mercer is hitting well. He had a slump that hurt his overall numbers, but just had a 13 game hit streak. Gorkys at .266 could be better, but he is blocked at the major league level anyway. Chase D'Arnaud is really the only one who should cause worry, and he missed most of the season so far with a concussion. Plus, he has a .292 OBP, which is good when your average is .150. That said, the pitching has been nice. Daniel McCutchen is doing well. Rudy Owens is showing his promise again. Bryan Morris is decent enough out of the pen. Both of those guys have WHIPs under 1, and amazing K/BB ratios. Daniel Moskos is having some control problems, so there is one let down. He needed to step up and earn the second lefty spot in the pen that Hurdle wants so badly. Lincoln was great while he was there. In fact, he never walked anyone in his 12 innings. McPhearson has been out, so that is a loss, but not because he is no longer promising. So overall not so bad. Altoona is the place that we knew would be weak. This hole in the organization predates Neal and the current Front Office and has been moving through the organization. Two years ago it was in WV, last year it was in Bradenton, and this year it is in Altoona. The big disappointment here is the lack of production from Robbie Grossman. But he is still coming off of surgery, so some extra slack time ought to be allotted. Tony Sanchez is the big concern. He is starting to look like a bust. AA has been too much for him. This is the second year in a row he has struggled. He is not even getting as much playing time as one would think any more. He has already sat out over 10 games. So, that is a miss for the Front Office. Other than that the prospects have been good. Brock Holt is hitting well as is Matt Curry. I know a lot of people like Jarek Cunningham, but I have never like him that much. I don't even have him in my top 50. He is doing just about what he always does. Show flashes of power, and hits around .250. However, he has only played in 12 games so, maybe something will change when gets back from the DL. Pitching here has been okay as far as the prospects go. Phil Irwin just got off the DL, and had a good game tonight to earn the win. Brandon Crumpton has given up too many long balls, but has an impressive K/BB rate. No reason to worry about him. The person to watch is Victor Black. He gives up a lot of hits, and that is bad in a reliever. However he has a 21/7 K/BB rate, which is good. Good hard fastball makes him interesting. I believe they have to make a choice about him soon, so watch Black for the rest of the year. Bradenton is where all the eyes are and Cole and Taillon have not disappointed. They are striking out guys a lot. And we are seeing Taillon go deep into games now. Good news. Cain has been less than one might have hoped, but 24/12 is not awful of a K/BB ratio. He has some stuff to work on, but it is far from a prospect busting performance. Tyler Waldron needs to be moved permanently to the pen, and he has made two pen appearances. It is not like that was not expected when he was drafted, so I hesitate to call this a draft bust. Josh Poythress in the pen has pitched his way to interesting prospect status. No runs allowed in 10 innings is nice. The bats could be better. I was hoping for more from Alex Dickerson, who has a strikeout problem and is hitting .252, which happens to be the same average of Dan Grovatt, who I was hoping more from. Drew Maggi started off hot, but is cooling down a bit. The bright spot here is Mel Rojas, who did not look all that good last year. Rojas is hitting .273, but making it even better is his 5 triples. Speed is always good. Rojas has not made a fielding error either. But Rojas needs to be more patient at the plate as he strikes out even more than Dickerson. West Virginia is even more fun to see, and I think the real proof we need to keep the front office. The Latin America players are shinning through here. First, Bell was hitting .267 and that is including a slow start to the first few games. His knee injury does not look too serious, so we should see him again this year. Alen Hansen is unbelievable right now. He has an OPS over 1, but his 17 errors including a recent four error game are a problem. He has hit 6 dingers showing the kind of power one hopes for at this stage of development. Gregory Polanco is almost as impressive with a .299 AVG and 7 homers. Jose Osuna is doing okay as well with a .281 AVG and Junior Sosa is showing back up on the radar with a .297 AVG. And Dan Gamache should not get lost in all of this. He is only hitting .267, but his 12 doubles is interesting. As great as the hitting here has been the pitching has been equally as disappointing. Allie was sent back to extended spring training. He was awful, and had elbow tightness to boot. Nick Kingham has been beat around giving up 6 homers in 8 games, but is sporting a 26/10 K/BB ratio. Zack Dodson also has been hit around with stats very similar to Kingham. Ryan Hafner has missed a few games on account of injury, but looks shaky with only one decent start under his belt. He is not striking guys out either. Matthew Benedict was okay for a while, but has had a couple of rough outings here at the end to show his weakness. Jordan Cooper and Orlando Castro have been disappointments out of the pen as well. No one on this staff can do anything except get beat down. Still let us not forget that we are going to be treated to a lot of high school arms when short season starts. Overall I think it is too early to give up on a Kingham or a Hafner. Arms are not fully mature until about 24. Cole and Taillon look great and on track. There is a great one two. Cain shows promise of being a three man in a rotation. And if we keep turning out players like Hansen, Polanco, and Osuna from our Latin American system, we should be in great shape offensively. Dilsen Herrera should be in rookie ball this year, and it will be neat to see him continue this new tradition. Overall, things look fairly good. If the high school arms flop in the rookie or Low A when those seasons start then we can start to say that maybe we loaded up too much on a gamble that does not look to be paying off. Until then, we should all just relax.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Keep the Faith

A big win tonight giving the Pirates a chance to win the series with the D-Backs. Last time I was trying to decide between optimistic and pessimistic, and one would have to lean more toward pessimism now. However, it can still be said that the Pirates have faced some good pitching, the Phillies, and been on a west coast swing, which this young team has not ever dealt well with. They need to learn how to win on the road, but west coast swings are always rough. But those are mostly excuses.

Tonight, they won and they did so in good fashion. They faced Ian Kennedy, another great pitcher, and they hit him around. He was in line for the loss until a two out, 3-2 pitch from Grilli left the yard. Grilli would get the win to make up for it. The Pirate leader did their job. The team had 13 hits and they were mostly from the middle of the order. Four hits for McCutchen, three from Jones including a homer, and multiple hits from Walker. They pushed each other across the plate all night long. McClouth played for Tabata and had one hit. Tabata pinch hit later and got a walk. After losing the lead and having the game tied at 4, Presley got his first hit of the game, an infield one. Pinch hitter McGehee got a base hit to put runners on the corners and McCutchen's fourth hit of the game was a game winning RBI base hit. Even Alvarez did well. He grounded out twice, poped out once, and gave one a ride to the deep part of the park, but was robbed by the center fielder who hurt himself against the wall making the catch. He also had a nice defensive game. No strikeouts. And we should get a nice diet of righties coming up. Last chance for Alvarez in my opinion. He has to turn it on here against these righties because McGehee is playing great ball. Jones is starting to hit, meaning Alvarez needs to go to the bench or to AAA.

Pitching was great considering. Karsten left after the first inning with shoulder inflammation, which might explain his giving up two runs. He was not himself. Jared Hughes went 2.2, and gave up only one. Watson went 2.1 and gave up none. A nice inning by Meek despite only throwing between 92-94. Grilli was rolling until giving up the surprise homer. Then Hanrahan was no where to be seen, not even in the bullpen. The radio guys theorized it was flu. This gave Juan Cruz a save chance, which he converted in nice style.

Sooner or later other have to hit. Barajas and Barmes in particular. There are not other options to play for those guys. They cannot hit under .100 for much longer. McGehee is the option if Alvarez never gets it right. Tabata I do believe will come around. But if not, Gorkys Hernadez is ready for a shot in the minors, and soon so will Marte. The Pirates need to take this series, but for me the real test starts game after next when division play opens against the Cards at home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good or bad?

The Pirates are now 2-2 after another close game out in LA. The Pirates lost 2-1 after giving up another first inning run, and then getting it back in the 7th and giving up a solo homer to lose it in the 8th. They had Presley on with one out in the 9th, but McCutchen grounded into a double play to end the game.

So, the question is whether or not to be very excited about the season or very worried. Let's examine.

1. The Pitchers are pitching well. In fact, all of the starting 4 threw quality starts, and Morton looks great in AAA as our 5th guy and AJ Burnett looked good in his first outing after breaking his face in Spring Training.
2. Alvarez has had some good at bats and already hit a homer.
3. Presley and McCutchen are hitting very well.
4. The team is fighting unto the end.
5. Bullpen looks great as usual.
6. Clutch hitting is in abundance.
7. The Pirates started against the Phils and the Dodgers. .500 against them is pretty good.

1. There is no way the pitchers will stay this good.
2. We are not scoring very many runs. Take out Game 3 and the Pirates have only scored 3 runs.
3. Garrett Jones looks to be a disaster.
4. Outside of Presley and McCutchen consistent hitting his hard to come by.
5. Power is still a problem.

So it is too early to tell, but the rest of the Central is doing rather well, so we cannot afford a slow start.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Baseball is back!

Opening Day has arrived, and the Pirates drop a heart breaker to the hated Phillies. Still, the Pirates looked good from the mound. Eric Bedard was lights out and gave up one 7th inning run and then the Pirates threw two shut out frames from the bullpen against a very potent offense. Sure the Pirates got both their hits in the first inning and one of them was a real squib, but I feel more confident that the bats will come around against pitchers not named Roy Halladay.

Alvarez looked okay. He did strike out once, but only once against Halladay. That is a good sign, I guess. No errors from him and he helped turn a double play. The Pirates actually have lots of people to back him up this year, so I am not so worried about Alvarez. In fact, I think the Pirates have until they need to add a 5th starter in a few weeks to see if Alvarez is going to stick at the majors. If he is struggling, then he goes down to make room for a returning 5th starter, Charlie Morton. If he is hot, then expect Hague to head back to AAA. It could be Harrison, but I expect they need more back up middle infielders than corner guys. I can't see them dropping Navarro at all.

Still, it is an encouraging start. I am just as excited about watching the minors, but we will get into that another day. Today is about overall predictions.

NL East Champs: Phillies
- the rest of the division is good, but not good enough.
NL Central Champs: Brewers
- Man I hate to say it, but they are probably still the best in the division even without Fielder.
NL West Champs: Giants
- They were down last year because Posey was out. Their pitching is still good enough and their hitting gets an immediate boost with Posey back.
Wild Card: Pirates
- I am going out on a limb and saying the Pirates are going to pull it off. Mostly because of the uneven schedule. Lost of games against the Astros and Cubs, and I think the Cards are really going to struggle. Not so much because they lost Albert, but because they lost LaRussa. That is a bigger deal than most think.

AL East Champs: Rays
- Too much talent and it is not aging like the Red Sox and Yanks.
AL Central Champs: Tigers
- After last year's pitching and the addition of Prince, is there another choice here?
AL West Champs: Angels
- I don't think that this is a sure thing although they upgraded a lot. The Rangers have been very good. However, I do not think Hamilton can go 162 without a serious injury and this year with the better Angels, I don't think the Rangers can survive it.
AL WIld Card: Twins
- Another long shot. But everything went wrong for the Twins last year. Mauer, Morneau, Spam. They all look healthy again. Plus, Nick Blackburn is back and a very underrated pitcher. He is a ground ball guy and so are most of the Twins pitchers. This will be important in a division with a lot of big fly guys like Fielder and Eric Hosmer. I think they still have the best coach in baseball too. Gardinhire is able to get it done.

World Series: Rays and Giants
Champ: Rays

- I do believe this is the year for the Rays. They have great pitching, and they are finally going to put it together in the post season. They will out pitch the Tigers, who are overrated a bit because of their power. I also think the Giants have the pitching to make it all the way again. It is not as good as the year they won it all, but the Phillies are getting older. Their pitching is going to be tested in a great NL Championship match up.

Looking forward to a great season!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Our Minor League System

Yes ladies and gents, it is about time for Spring Training to get under way. Minor League rankings are out, and the Pirates's system rankings 12. To me that is too low. I am biased, but still, I think it is low. There are also lots of prospect rankings out there, but this is my favorite so far. It is the kindest to the Pirates because it ranks Luis Heredia, and ranks him well. He does not make anyone else's list. So based on my limited knowledge I will give my top 10.

1. Padres - They have no super great A+ prospects, but have 10 top 100 prospects, or at least 9. That is really good. No one else comes close to that many. I put them at #1. Of course with all the trading they have been doing the last year they had better be #1.

2. Blue Jays - supposedly they have crazy depth, but they only have 5 Top 100 prospects, and one of those is real near the bottom. Travis D'Arnaud is good and an A type prospect, but I am not sure that they are better than the Padres.

3. Royals - They were #1 last year, but put a lot of guys in the majors that drop them. The addition of Bubba Starling ought to prevent them from dropping too far. Odorizzi is under rated in my opinion, and Mike Motgomery, who had control problems last year, should still be considered a potential star. He still struck out 7.7 per 9 innings, and was a top 20 prospect last year for Baseball America and is not top 100 this year. Even without Motgomery they put 5 in the Top 100.

4. Athletics - Billy Beane packs them in. He puts 7 in my favorite list, although one could make an argument there are only 5 solidly on the list. Still that is a lot and it is enough to crack the top 5.

5. Rays - Matt Moore is great. No doubt. They only put one other guy on this Top 100, but look at the 2011 draft class. They signed ten guys higher than Josh Bell. Now, they are probably not all better than Bell, but they are not chopped liver either. This group is going to produce results. They seem to always have some talent waiting in the wings, and I am going to put faith in their system and put them up at 5.

6. Rangers - Profar is the big name here, but there are 5 guys in the Top 100. They have shown themselves to be a system that can find and develop talent. The Rangers just missed the Top 5, and are probably interchangeable with the Rays here.

7. Mariners - Two top 20 prospects and 4 top 100. I sort of think Hultzen is underrated as well, so the Mariners are looking good with their talent. High ceilings abound.

8. Pirates - Yes, I think we have the 8th best system. We are short on hitting, but not as short as some of the others, and we have 4 legit possible aces in the system (one of which does not make the top 100). This ranking has 6 Pirates in the Top 100. I down grade us a little because we have some depth issues, and Owens probably took a hit in his status this past year, but overall we have a great system. Allie and Dickerson are not on the top 100 list, but are high ceiling guys. Our Latin America program ought to start really paying off soon as well.

9. Cardinals - As much as it pains me to say it the Cardinals have a good organization. Shelby Miller is good, and they have a total of 5 on this Top 100 list. Probably a bit more balance over all than us, but I don't think they are better than us.

10. Nationals - I was pretty torn here, but I am going Nats. Harper needs no comment and may be the best overall prospect. I think Rendon is low at 26 and Purke is clearly a top 100 guy. They have a few other guys who are not off this list by much.

Now it is hard to make huge argument if you wished to put the Diamondbacks at 10, but I think the fact the Nats have great hitters and a pitcher and the Diamondbacks only have three great pitchers makes the Nats system better. PItching beats hitting, but only once every five games. Thus, the Braves follow behind the Diamondbacks with the same problem. Red Sox are decent, and you could throw in Twins to round out my Top 15.